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How to Host an Unforgettable Wine and Charcuterie Night

Charcuterie is a French term that originated in the 15th century in reference to specialty shops that sold cured meats. The purpose was to preserve their shelf life and reduce waste by using all parts of the animal. Today, we have expanded on the art of charcuterie boards by styling them with cheese, dried fruits, nuts, vegetables, spreads, and pretty much everything under the sun. Some call this way of eating "girl dinner" since they opt out of cooking and just add their favorite snacks on a plate instead.


Depending on how many guests you're hosting and what's on the table, your wine and charcuterie festivities can easily turn into a night you will never financially recover from. Many shops have sprung up where you can order a custom board if you don't want to deal with the hassle of arranging it yourself, but those will easily add up. If you do it yourself, you can save money and have control of every detail. Plus, it's kind of therapeutic arranging snacks.


That being said, all this choice can add to the confusion and make for an aimless grocery haul. I'll break down what you need for food and wine, how to arrange it all, and set the ambiance so that you're the host with the most (even if it's on a budget).


Charcuterie Spread

Curating the Perfect Charcuterie Board Pairings

As you can see below, the sky is the limit when it comes to charcuterie boards. I've narrowed it down to roughly 10 options per each category.


Meat

  • Prosciutto - Prosciutto is one of the usual suspects on a board. Thinly sliced, dry-cured Italian ham with a buttery taste that pairs with a variety of food.

  • Coppa - Coppa is also known as capicola and pairs well with soft cheeses and tangy condiments.

  • Salami - This versatile cured sausage has many styles and flavors (Genoa, Milano, Soppressata).

  • Chorizo - Chorizo is a Spanish pork sausage that offers spicy and bold flavors that can be offset by aged cheeses.

  • Pâté - This is a spreadable mixture of seasoned ground meats that have been marinated in herbs and spices. The meat can come from duck, goose, pig, lamb, or quail to name a few. It's served chilled or at room temperature on top of crusty bread. It adds a touch of luxury and goes great with sweet pairings like fig jam. Trader Joe's has a budget friendly Tuffle Mousse Pâté made with chicken liver.

  • Bresaola - Less fatty than prosciutto, this thinly sliced salted beef is air-dried and rich in flavor. It goes well with creamy cheeses.

  • Saucisson Sec - This is the French version of dried salami made out of pork, garlic, and spices that are perfect with mustard and bold cheeses.

  • Speck - With a slightly firmer texture than prosciutto, speck is lightly smoked and dry-cured Italian ham. It adds smokiness to charcuterie boards and is lovely with just about every cheese.

  • Andouille - Add this spicy, smoked pork sausage to the board for a Southern flair. It originates from Louisiana Creole cuisine and is great with pickled veggies and sharp cheeses.

  • Sujuk - Sujuk is typically a dry and spicy fermented beef sausage that is popular in Balkan and Middle Eastern cuisines. Cumin, sumac, red pepper, garlic, and salt are some of the main ingredients. You have to venture out to an international grocery store; an Eastern European store is bound to have it. The good part about making an extra stop? You will find many other varieties of cured meats you probably haven't tried before and your guests will be impressed with your meat knowledge.



Cheese

  • Brie - A buttery cheese that's creamy and easily spreadable on a cracker. Can be topped off with honey, fruit preserves, and nuts to name a few.

  • Manchego - Spanish cheese from sheep's milk. It's texture is firm and it pairs well with cured meats.

  • Gouda - This creamy, yet semi-hard cheese is smooth and nutty in flavor. It's perfect for both sweet and savory pairings.

  • Goat Cheese (Chèvre) - Its creamy texture and tartness adds a contrast to richer cheeses and cured meats. Enjoy it with balsamic glaze or honey.

  • Havarti - Semi-soft cheese with a creamy and mild flavor that melts easily. It's versatile and meshes well with most items on the board.

  • Gruyère - Swiss cheese with a nutty profile and firm texture. Easy to melt and plays nice with sweet and savory elements.

  • Camembert - Similar to brie, Camembert has an earthy flavor and is soft and creamy.

  • Blue Cheese - Not everyone's favorite, but its tangy and bold and worth putting on a board for contrast. Gorgonzola, Stilton, and Roquefort are some of the varieties you can get.

  • Burrata - Burrata is made from a combination of Italian mozzarella and cream. The outside is solid, while the inside is filled with clotted cream and stracciatella. It can get a little messy and it's often paired with tomatoes, balsamic vinegar, and olive oil. Because of this, I would suggest having it in its own separate display to fill the table around your main charcuterie board.

  • Cheddar - Cheddar bores me, but it's a safe crowd-pleaser. It ranges from mild to extra sharp which allows for a variety of pairing options.

  • Halloumi - You don't often see this on a charcuterie board, but we are a little offbeat here. Halloumi is as if mozzarella and feta cheese had a tangy and salty baby. Its of Cypriot origin and is made from a mixture of goat and sheep milk (and sometimes cow's milk). Because of its high melting point, you can fry or grill it. It's so filling and one of my favorites.


Fruits

  • Apricots (fresh or dried)

  • Pomegranate seeds

  • Figs (fresh or dried)

  • Berries (blueberries, raspberries, strawberries)

  • Sliced apples (Fuji, Honeycrisp, Granny Smith)

  • Grapes

  • Sliced pears (Anjou, Bartlett, Bosc)

  • Oranges

  • Raisins

  • Persimmons (sliced)


Vegetables

  • Pickles (cornichons, gherkins)

  • Olives (mix it up for variety)

  • Artichoke hearts

  • Cherry tomatoes

  • Cucumbers (sliced)

  • Carrots (baby carrots or sticks)

  • Radishes (sliced)

  • Bell peppers (sliced)

  • Roasted red peppers

  • Snap peas

  • Pickled veggies of any variety (you can get them in jars and they're already sliced)


Savory Accompaniments

  • Pita bread or naan (cut into wedges)

  • Crostini (toasted baguette slices)

  • Breadsticks (grissini)

  • Pretzel rods or crisps

  • Lavash

  • Rye crisps

  • Focaccia bread (sliced or torn with olive oil and herbs)

  • Nuts (almonds, walnuts, pecans, cashews, macadamia)

  • Crispbread like Swedish Knäckebröd (If you have an Ikea near, you can buy these there)

  • Baguette (sliced)

  • Melba toast



Spreads

  • Fig jam (try Trader Joe's Fig Butter)

  • Olive tapenade

  • Hummus of all varieties

  • Balsamic glaze

  • Mustard (Dijon, grainy, whole grain)

  • Honey

  • Apricot preserves

  • Herb-infused olive oil

  • Caviar

  • Garlic aioli


Sweet Accompaniments

I don't recommend mixing these with your savory board, but if you're feeling extra generous, create a separate board focused on sweets. Even if you don't want to go all out on this one, having a couple dessert options out on display is a great idea. For example, you can create a macaron tower and add some chocolate covered strawberries.


  • Macarons - the ones pictures below are gluten-free

  • Chocolate squares

  • Cream puffs

  • Chocolate wafers

  • Chocolate covered pretzels

  • Apple cider mini donuts

  • Candied pecans

  • Bourbon-soaked cherries

  • Caramel popcorn

  • Chocolate covered strawberries

  • Meringue cookies



How to Arrange a Charcuterie Board

Alright, so you have narrowed down your pairings, now what? You want to create balance with your board and not have too much from one category. To achieve this, follow the 3333 rule (3 meats, 3 cheeses, 3 starches, and 3 accompaniments). Of course, the bigger the board, the more you can add.


Start by adding small bowls or ramekins to the board for dips and other food that can get messy like olives, or pickles. Then begin by layering your cheese around them, followed by meats, then fruits and veggies, and carbs last. Then when you're finished, fill in the gaps so the whole board is covered. Sprinkle nuts, raisins, or anything else that easily goes into any small spaces you might have missed.


As you are arranging your board, consider the shapes and colors throughout. You can roll, fold, ribbon, and shape certain meats that are thin. For example, you can easily use salami to create a rose. Additionally, make sure to provide small serving utensils, cheese knives, or toothpicks for easy handling so things don't get too messy.


Still intimidated? Use visually appealing serving boards and platters to distract people from paying too much attention to your slicing, arrangements, and lack of salami rose making skills. Some great options are: Bamboo Lotus Serving Board, Wooden Hamsa Server, and Recycled Wine Bottle Platter with Spreader.



Picking Out Wine

And we haven't even discussed wine yet. I'll list out a variety of wine options if you want to turn this into a serious wine tasting party, but if you want the focus to be on the charcuterie, I would stay away from dessert and fortified wines. My favorite reds to have on the table are: Pinot Noir, Malbec, Cabernet Sauvignon, Tempranillo, and Syrah. For whites: Sauvignon Blanc, Pinot Grigio, Chardonnay, and Prosecco.


To get a good variety of wine, you can ask each guest to bring a bottle and assign the type so you don't end up with everyone bringing a Cabernet.


Red Wines

  • Tempranillo (Spain, Rioja)

  • Malbec (Argentina, Cahors)

  • Syrah/Shiraz (Australia, Rhône Valley)

  • Zinfandel (California)

  • Cabernet Sauvignon (California, Bordeaux)

  • Pinot Noir (Oregon, Burgundy)

  • Merlot (California, Bordeaux)


White Wines

  • Chardonnay (California, Burgundy)

  • Pinot Grigio/Gris (Italy, Oregon)

  • Riesling (Germany, Alsace)

  • Sauvignon Blanc (New Zealand, Loire Valley)

  • Viognier (Rhône Valley, California)


Sparkling Wines

  • Prosecco (Italy)

  • Cava (Spain)

  • Champagne (France)


Rosé Wines

  • White Zinfandel (California)

  • Provence Rosé (France)

  • Sangiovese Rosé (Italy)



Dessert Wines

  • Port (Portugal)

  • Moscato d'Asti (Italy)

  • Ice Wine (Canada, Germany)

  • Sauternes (Bordeaux, France)

  • Late Harvest Riesling (Germany, Washington)


Fortified Wines

  • Sherry (Spain)

  • Marsala (Italy)

  • Madeira (Portugal)


Setting the Ambiance

The hard part is over once you set out your charcuterie board creations; they should be the star of the show. You may want to opt for traditional wine glasses, but I love stemless ones because they're harder to knock over. I've clearly had some spills and have thought this through. The multicolor ombre set below makes it easy for everyone to keep track of their glasses. There are also wine glass charms you can buy if you don't feel like switching out your entire set.


For wines that need to be chilled, you can craft your own unique centerpiece every time with the Artful Ice Mold Bottle Chiller. To finish off the decor, you can add in flowers and candles throughout. Make sure the candles are not scented so they don't distract from the food and wine. Lastly, turn on a good playlist and enjoy. Cheers!






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